Computer Science, Education, Innovation, Robotics, STEM

SpelBots at Ten Years: Stories of Young Black Women in Technology – Amelia Henderson

spelbots 2005

First SpelBots Team Pictured (left to right): Shinese Noble, Karina Lyles, Aryen Moore-Alston, Dr. Williams, Ebony O’Neal, Ebony Smith, Brandy Kinlaw. Photo credit: Spelman College.

Ten years ago this July, the SpelBots first competed in the RoboCup U.S. Open at Georgia Tech, and then became the first all-female, African American RoboCup team at the international RoboCup in Osaka, Japan in 2005.  The SpelBots actually began in 2004 at Spelman College, a historically black college for women in Atlanta, Georgia.  The SpelBots began when I came to Spelman after being a professor at University of Iowa, led to work at Spelman after reading the Purpose Drive Life.  At the time, there weren’t any all-women, robotics team at any level that we knew of, and it came at a time when Harvard President, Larry Summers, raised questions about the innate scientific abilities of women.  The 9th Spelman College President Beverly Daniel Tatum strongly supported the SpelBots and advocated for women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.  We were able to get support in those early days from NASA, Coca Cola, and a member of the Spelman Board of Trustees, Ted Aronson.  The SpelBots proved that women can compete in any field and became role models for a new generation of women and  African American computer scientists, coders, and engineers.  I had the privilege to found and direct the SpelBots ten years ago and continue to be inspired by their achievements and passion.  On my blog, I will post some of the former SpelBots reflections on what the SpelBots meant to them and what they are doing now.  The first post is by Amelia Henderson, now finishing her Master’s in Computer Science at Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

amelia henderson spelbotsAmelia Henderson

“SpelBots gave me the opportunity to apply the things that I was learning in my courses to something hands-on. It also helped me realize some of the ways in which technology can truly help people through some of the research projects. With the low number of minorities in STEM fields, it was encouraging to work with a team of African-American women who were also majoring in STEM disciplines and who are today, still excelling in their studies and/or work. My experience with SpelBots also showed me the importance of reaching out and encouraging more minorities to consider STEM fields. I am currently working on my Masters in Computer Science from Georgia Institute of Technology and will graduate in Fall 2015.”

About the Author
Dr. Andrew B. Williams, is a Professor and John P. Raynor, S.J. Distinguished Chair in Electrical & Computer Engineering at Marquette Engineering where he directs the Humanoid Engineering & Intelligent Robotics (HEIR) Lab.  He is the author of Out of the Box: Building Robots, Transforming Lives.  He provides talent and technology consulting and motivational speaking as Chief Creative Officer of AppRobo LLC.

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